Chef Ned Bell literally rolled into Toronto last Thursday, almost exactly a month after setting off from St. John’s in his bid to cycle across Canada, all to raise awareness about the parlous state of the fish in our beautiful oceans. It was great to see him looking so amazingly fit and spry – every inch the athlete. I don’t think I’ve seen a guy in such good shape since hanging out with Simon Whitfield at the Beijing Olympics. His bike was on display in one of the larger party rooms at the Four Seasons hotel (Ned is currently Executive Chef of the Vancouver Four Seasons) and it was there that scores of us gathered to welcome him. Paul Boehmer and Martin Kouprie represented the chefly community and there were some fine speeches made. Isadore Sharp was inspiring, reminding us that other movements for change had started with a courageous individual’s gesture. Many people recalled Sharp’s lifelong support for Terry Fox. And Dolf Dejong, vice president, Conservation and Education at the Vancouver Aquarium, made a persuasive appeal for support in the struggle to encourage sustainable fisheries. As Ned said, we can all make it happen by innumerable personal decisions, by asking your waiter next time you order fish in a restaurant if the species is sustainably caught, by politely suggesting your fishmonger wise up about the virtues of some creatures over others. Many righteous and responsible scientific predictions point to empty oceans by 2048 if we don’t get our act together, which would be a tragedy for our grandchildren – even worse for the two billion humans who rely on the sea for their daily source of protein. Ned has two-and-a-half months more cycling to go before he reaches Vancouver. You can follow his progress (and find useful data) at chefsforoceans.com, as well as keep tags on the 20 special events in which he is taking part across the country. “In 20 years,” said Ned, “we could have every person in Canada eating sustainable seafood.” Ned’s cycling 8,000 k for the cause; we just to have eat for it, albeit in a more informed manner than we’re used to doing. No problemo.
Archive for the ‘Events’ Category
I am almost at a loss for words. Wendy and I just got back from two weeks in the very far north of Scotland where we had the spectacular time of our lives, helping to host the latest Gold Medal Plates trip. If you’ve ever been to a GMP event you’ll know that we auction trips to fascinating parts of the world at our gala events in 11 Canadian cities – the proceeds go to programs that support Canada’s Olympic athletes – which means a guest list of couples drawn from across Canada. This time, we took over the entirety of Ackergill Tower, a 15th-century castle about 10 feet from the North Sea, a gaunt and defensible property that is as luxe as Downton Abbey behind it’s massive stone walls. It is staffed by the friendliest, wisest, most professional group of people you will ever meet, who seemed delighted to drive us about the countryside in Land Rovers, to stay up with us til two o’clock in the morning in the Tower’s private pub, to transform the Great Hall at the drop of a hat from the perfect venue for an educational gin tasting (led by me) to a glittering, candlelit whisky dinner (led by Malcolm Waring of the local Old Pulteney distillery) and still have it ready for breakfast the following morning.
I have no space here to describe the full events of our week. Those who wished to learn were taught clay pigeon shooting or fly fishing on Ackergill’s private loch. We had our own GMP Highland Games featuring archery and toss-the-welly. We took to the sea in superfast rubber rib boats, getting up close and personal with tens of thousands of fulmars, guillemots, cormorants, puffins, oyster catchers, terns and gulls and watching seals in their deep cliff caves. We hiked along cliff tops to ruined castles and visited one that was most decidedly not a ruin – the Queen Mother’s former retreat, the Castle of Mey. We walked from Thurso to Scrabster and had a spectacular lunch at Chef Jim Cowie’s extraordinary little restaurant, the Captain’s Galley, recently rated the best seafood restaurant in the U.K. Four enterprising members of our group took a private helicopter across the breadth of Scotland to Skye for lunch at Three Chimneys; the rest of us took ship to the Orkneys for a private VIP tour of Highland Park distillery. And wherever we went we had music. Staying with us were Spirit of the West’s frontmen Geoffrey Kelly and John Mann, B.C. troubadour Dustin Bentall, the brilliant fiddler Kendel Carson and guitarist Matthew Harder. They played for us most evenings and some afternoons and never failed to enchant. Our resident Olympian was none other than Steve Podborski, who regaled us with tales of the ski slopes and his more recent experiences as chef de mission of the Canadian team at Sochi.
Did I mention the food? Ackergill Tower’s chefs and kitchen are masters of Scottish country house cooking. For the whisky dinner, they prepared the best lamb I’ve eaten in years (sourced from the flock of the Castle of Mey). Lunch might be a perfectly dressed local crab or lobster and chips and a mug of cullen skink (smoked haddock chowder). For the grand dinner on the last night, where the men all wore kilts and full highland regalia and the women wore sashes over their gowns, we were served venison and a mighty haggis piped in by Wick’s local bagpipe and drum marching band. Another night, we all went down to the bothy by the loch and found a great barbecue had been prepared: when we had eaten our fill we went back to the beach and toasted marshmallows over a massive bonfire. No one got burned and there was music and whisky and a northern twilight that lasted almost till dawn.
And we were blessed by the weather. Yes it was windy, and we often awoke to mornings of fog and moist air that curled our hair and made complexions look ten years younger. But the sun came out within an hour. Changeable might be the best way to describe it, but it only added to the challenges of the golfers in our midst who played the local links courses or drove down the coast to try Royal Dornoch. In my heart, I hoped for a mighty storm, such as one often gets up here where the North sea meets the North Atlantic, but it wasn’t to be. Maybe next year… Because we will be doing this again next June, gathering a new clan of guests at the GMP gala events across Canada this fall – people who want to live like lairds and ladies for a week of luxury and aristocratic country activities, wonderful music and delicious food, Champagne teas and rare whisky tastings, highland dancing and fling-the-welly.
I bought a wonderful picture last week – a print of a painting by the young Japanese artist Sae Kimura of a dog barking at the moon. The dog (really a dog-cat cross) is called Joni (pronounced Johnny) and is a frequent hero of Sae’s extraordinary, whimsical, profound pictures. She currently has an exhibition at Harvest Kitchen on Harbord Street. I’ve never eaten there, but I will do so very soon because the restaurant’s Managing Director is Jill McAbe, one of the principals of JOV Bistro, back in the day, and a woman who would not be associated with anywhere that was less than stellar. She spoke at Terroir on Monday, educating us all about collaborative systems in the hospitality industry. It was there, in-between speakers, sitting in the Arcadian Court, that my monkey mind made its way back to Sae and Joni.
Terroir was very interesting. I’m not going to offer a precis – just a quick thank you to Scott Vivian, chef-patron of Beast, who made me blush deeply by mentioning me from the stage. There were many fascinating speakers and a general spirit of earnest bonhommie that I found encouraging. Strong contingents from Ireland, Spain, Sweden, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, Belize, Tuscany, Quebec, the USA, England and Alberta reminded the 700-or-so onlookers that the symposium now has an inclusive relevance far beyond the friendly confines of the GTA.
I’m delighted to say that those Albertans who came to Terroir stayed a few extra days and met up with other chefs and dignitaries who flew in from Calgary, Banff and Edmonton to put on a tremendous show of their own at Richmond Station on Wednesday night. The emcee was my friend the gastronome and food writer extraordinaire John Gilchrist (he shared the platform with Dragon’s Den star Arlene Dickinson) and nine guest chefs did the cooking. They are all part of the Alberta Ate collective, a group of chefs inspired by Toronto’s own Group of Seven, who come together in different permutations to create events like this. I don’t know if there was an actual mandate to do so, but the eight-course meal seemed designed to show Toronto that there was more to Alberta cuisine than steak. The opening act in particular, featuring Connie de Sousa (8½ months pregnant but wouldn’t miss the event) and John Jackson of Charcut, a restaurant known for its nose-to-tail meat, was splendidly unepected. The two chefs offered an elegant, delicate salad of smoked pickerel cheeks, gorgeous potatoes cut into thick coins, a dill-dressed hard-boiled quail egg and crunchy snowpeas. Little flecks of crunchy batter, threads of pickled onion and some awesome Brassica grain mustard completed the dish, along with a dressing of mustard-spiked sour cream. Lots of sturdy flavours on the plate but the salt-cured pickerel cheeks had enough personality of their own to stand out. Big Rock Warthog ale was a clever accompaniment.
The idea of the evening was to showcase Albertan ingredients as well as chefs and I think it was an eye-opener for some of the Toronto crowd. There wasn’t a dish that didn’t excite. Most of the chefs had competed several times at Gold Medal Plates in either Calgary or Edmonton but a couple of them were new to me. JW Foster is the new executive chef at The Fairmont Banff Springs: he presented a braised pork and caramelized onion terrine, a firm slice dressed with mâche and tiny pickled chanterelles that had the colour and almost the texture of uni.
Duncan Ly, chef of Hotel Arts Calgary and Yellow Door Bistro, won silver in this year’s Canadian Culinary Championship. His dish on Wednesday was brilliant – a piece of almost raw, citrus-cured rainbow trout over a hot-sour consommé made from the trout’s bones and spiked with a funky hint of fish sauce. Fresh sugar snap peas, wilted baby spinach, fondant potato and a few trout eggs were part of the fun, as was a bowl of crispy trout skin chips. A creamy cocktail like a Sour made with Alberta premium rye worked really well with it.
And so we progressed… Justin Leboe of the highly esteemed Model Milk in Calgary gave us elk tartar with an insanely delicious sauce made by puréeing raw oysters, ramps and sour cheese until it had the colour and texture of lobster tomalley. Chef and visual artist Pierre Lamielle of Food on your Shirt had fun with a Beet Wellington. Blair Lebsack of RGE RD in Edmonton cooked pheasant breast with a supple crepe filled with the leg meat, Sylvan Star gruyere and roasted onion. Chef jan Hansen of Heritage Park brought the savoury procession to a close with sous vide lamb loin, pickled beets and roasted carrot purée.
Karine Moulin of hotel Arts provided dessert - a dense chocolate and Saskatoon berry cake with wild blueberry chantilly and crispy green flax praline.
Amazingly, we finished on time and a fine time was had by all. I now have a smart white Stetson which I wear around the house.
The New Zealand Wine fair blew into town yesterday with a stellar gathering of wine producers showing off their work for trade and media. It was a splendid opportunity to taste beyond the normal availabilities of Vintages and the LCBO, and there were treats galore. Robert Ketchin organizes the event and he started with a walk-about pour-your-own tasting of 16 Pinot Noirs from various parts of the country, designed to showcase regional differences. For me, one wine stood out dramatically from the pack – Ostler Vineyards Caroline’s Pinot Noir 2011. Grown in the Waitaki Valley on the south island, the vineyards sit on limestone – rare in NZ – and the Pinot has an underlying minerality that sits firm beneath the sliding, prismatic illusions of cherries and damsons, liquorice, dark chocolate and smoke. If you want some you’ll have to contact the agent, Mark Cuff at The Living Vine Inc. It costs around $55 a bottle.
Other wines that made a big impression on me? Loveblock Sauvignon Blanc 2013 is going to be in the Vintages July 7th release ($25.95). It’s made by Erica and Kim Crawford (yes, that Kim Crawford) from grapes grown high in the hills above Marlborough’s Awatere Valley. It’s fragrant, delicate, luminous – not one of those big, pungent New Zealand Sauvignons that jump out of the glass at you.
Then there was the Kings Series from Marisco Vineyards in Marlborough’s Waihopai valley. Owner and winemaker Brent Marris traces his family all the way back to one of the 35 illegitimate children of King Henry I and he calls his Chardonnay The King’s Bastard. His peachy, oak-touched, hint-of-nutmeg Pinot Gris is named The King’s Thorn, for a subsequent member of the family who refused to give up the Isle of Lundy to Henry II. Then there’s A Sticky End, a delectably sweet Sauvignon Blanc made from grapes that grow in a shadowy part of the estate and where botrytis develops every autumn. Named for another ancestor who was hanged, drawn and quartered by Henry III for piracy, it has an amazing aroma of toast and marmalade, tastes of honey and peaches and apricots and has a delicate acidity that keeps the sticky weight and sweetness from feeling too overwhelming. Not sure if we’ll be seeing any of these wines in our liquor store but a quick call to the agent, Peter Sainsbury of Glencairn Wine Merchants, might secure you a case on private order.
|Looks like Arlene Stein and the Terroir team have done it again – another extraordinary line-up for this year’s Hospitality Symposium with major gastronomical celebrities, both local and international.
Terroir takes place a month from now on May 12th at Oliver & Bonacini’s regal Arcadian Court.
Definitely not to be missed!
Check out the line-up:
Chef Demos by Visit Sweden
Potluck Lunch: A collaboration between American and Canadian Chefs
Main Stage Presentations
Lucky BEEF – Peter Meehan from Lucky Peach in conversation with
Jill McAbe, Restaurant Management Consulting
How we collaborate with The Group of Seven Chefs, Toronto &
Live from Hartwood – Eric Werner, Chef, Hartwood, Tulum Mexico
Creative Culinary Communities
For ticket purchase and more information, visit http://www.terroirsymposium.com.
Meanwhile, this just in from Cava:
On Monday April 28th, Cava is delighted to welcome Murray McDonald, chef of Newfoundland’s award winning Fogo Island Inn for “MC²”, in a collaboration with Chris McDonald exploring the historical intersection of Iberia and Newfoundland.
Originally from Newfoundland, Chef Murray has returned to his home province after developing his culinary skills in China, New Zealand, Mexico and Bermuda.
Now residing and working at the remote outport of Fogo Island, Chef Murray is dedicated to supporting local talent and showcasing local ingredients, foraged, fished and farmed on Fogo Island.
Join the two McDonalds for this unique six course collaborative dinner including innovative beverage pairings. It will be an evening to remember.
$150 plus taxes and gratuities.
Monday April 28. 6:30pm
Cava Restaurant, 1560 Yonge Street
Please reserve at 416-979-9918
Seating is extremely limited
And the nominees are…
It seems fitting on Oscars night to mention the Ontario Hostelry Institute’s annual gala where gold awards are handed out to the chosen luminaries of Ontario’s hospitality industry. These are our own Oscars, really, and the winners are selected by past awardees under the aegis of the OHI’s chair and president (for lo these 24 years), J. Charles Grieco. It’s good and proper to honour the industry’s stars but the OHI serves another purpose, providing scholarships and bursaries to talented young people who might not otherwise be able to afford professional training. It also supports the up-and-coming young idea with its 30 under 30 program. Funds raised at the gala provide the wherewithal to do this important work and it’s also a lovely evening out. This year’s gala and awards dinner takes place at the Four Seasons Hotel Toronto on April 24. Buy a ticket or a table at www.theohi.ca.
Mr. Grieco has given me permission to name this year’s honorees in advance of the great event.
Educator: Deborah Pratt, Winery public Relations, Great Estates of Niagara.
Media/publishing: Jennifer Bain, author and Food Editor at the Toronto Star.
Chef: the great Arpi Magyar, Executive Chef and Proprietor of Couture Cuisine.
Supplier: Lynn Siegal of Hilite Fine Foods Inc.
Foodservice-Chain Operator: Annie Young-Scrivner, President, Starbucks Canada.
Independent Restaurateur: Tony and Mario Amaro, Co-owners, Opus Restaurant.
Hotelier: Heather McCrory, SVP Operations, Americas, Fairmont Raffles Hotels International Hotels & Resorts.
Artisan: Jonathan Forbes, Founder, Forbes Wild Foods.
A powerful list indeed, and sincere congratulations to them all.
Let the competition begin! Famous last words on Thursday night as each of our competing champion chefs was given his or her bottle of mystery wine, a pair of culinary students from Okanagan College’s Culinary Arts program to complete her or his brigade of two (or in one case, one) sous chefs, and sent off into the night to start working on a perfectly paired dish. The wine (personally selected by our National Wine Advisor, David Lawrason, its identity a secret so closely guarded that he would have had to kill me if he’d told me in advance) could be seen to be white, but that was all any of us knew. The chefs’ task was made more difficult because they had to prepare their dish for 425 guests as well as the judges and they were obliged to spend no more than their allowance of $550 in total. Try throwing a dinner party and spending $1.22 on each guest! Furthermore, everything, from salt and oil up, had to be purchased in Kelowna on Friday morning. During the afternoon, our culinary referee checked every receipt and received back any unspent coins. Jonathan Thauberger of Regina spent all but $6; Marysol Foucault of Ottawa-Gatineau handed back a record $170 surplus! Then the chefs and their sous chefs and their dishes were ferried from the prep kitchens at Okanagan College’s Culinary Arts faculty to the Delta Grand.
Excitement on the evening was intense. The crowd oohed and aahed at the magnificent new BMW that is this year’s bonus prize for the ultimate winner of the CCC and they listened intently as each chef took the stage before we began and described their dish and the thinking behind it. The wine, incidentally, turned out to be a fascinating white blend of Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris with a splash of Viognier – Laughing Stock’s 2012 “Blind Trust” from B.C.’s Naramata Bench. An aromatic wine with a hint of oak and bright acidity, it softened and broadened considerably in the glass, a change which may have thrown some of the chefs off their matches a tad. The Mystery wine flowed freely among the crowd who moved from chef’s station to station, tasting and evaluating. They filled out their own score cards and produced their own People’s Choice award at the end of the evening, giving their prize to Chef Duncan Ly of Yellow Door Bistro in Calgary. Meanwhile, the judges, holding their peace, took their seats at a perfectly illuminated table outside the main event and waited for what might come.
First up, From Calgary, Chef Duncan Ly of Yellow Door Bistro, a chef who has competed at the CCC before and certainly knows the ropes. “I set out to play off the acidity and the wine’s herbal and fruity notes,” he explained. His dish was a dainty quintet of Japanese refinement, five upright tubes of cucumber ribbon, some filled with finely chopped ahi tuna, Asian pear and fresh roe, others with pomelo and dried apple. Textures were ethereal but flavours deep. The little tubes were scattered with a minuscule crumble of peanut and puffed quinoa while the plate was decorated with shaved radish, tiny mint leaves and hints of cilantro. A pool of clear liquid turned out to be citrus spiked with fish sauce, precisely matched to the texture and intensity of the wine.
From Ottawa-Gatineau, Chef Marysol Foucault of Edgar, in Gatineau, showed next, her dish dramatically plated far to one side, allowing her to finish it at the judges’ table by pouring on her sauce. She had found baked apple in the wine and so tossed some morsels of caramelized pickled apple with the spaetzle that lay beside her main protein of delectably tender pulled chicken confit. Other components included grainy mustard, thyme, brussels sprout leaves, smoky bacon, pungent little threads of charred meyer lemon zest, grated hazelnuts, shards of crispy chicken skin and charred shallots. And the sauce she finished it with was a rich, Quebecois smoked pork hock broth. Such a delicious mosaic of flavours to complement the richness of the wine.
From St. John’s, Chef Roger Andrews of Relish Gourmet Burgers created a dish of three separate components. The first was a block of maple-lacquered, smoked pork belly, awesomely delicious and perfectly textured. Beside it was a mound of mushroom ragout made from chopped chanterelle and crimini mushrooms cooked with chicken stock, garlic and shallots that worked particularly well with the wine. Balanced on the ragout, a crunchy slice of garlic toast was topped with aerated goat yoghurt. The third element was a whole olive-oil-poached tomato – basically a juice-and-flavour bomb that was a brilliant complement to the rest of the dish and unexpectedly well matched to the wine.
From Edmonton, Chef Paul Shufelt of Century Hospitality Group also gave us pork belly, the meat slow-braised then quickly seared, glazed with honey, soy and lemongrass. He set the tasty meat on a hank of rice vermicelli tossed with julienned Granny Smith apple, baby radish, pea tendrils, fresh mint, pistachios and some pickled red onion, all moistened by a honey gastrique and by a squeeze of the lime wedge he included on the plate. The overall effect was like a highly sophisticated, deconstructed Vietnamese roll – very refreshing and a good match with the wine.
From Regina, Chef Jonathan Thauberger of Crave Kitchen + Wine Bar created a spectacular little burger-shaped creation, baking a miniature peach-and-yam bagel that he instructed us to eat with our fingers. Inside was a slice of perfectly cooked veal sweetbreads, some subtle bacon torchon and a vanilla-scented ricotta cheese that chef made himself during the morning. There was apple slaw and yam purée on the plate, both reflecting aspects Chef had found in the wine, and some yummy sunchoke chips for crunch. The big surprise was a pickled smelt on a skewer. Cured in a citrus escabeche and topped with kumquat, its tangy fishiness was decidedly forthright and some judges felt a bit too much for the wine. But this was the slider from heaven.
Fom Montreal, Chef Danny St. Pierre of Auguste, in Sherbrooke, Que., found plenty of minerality in the wine and reflected this with a fluid gel of grapefruit and by spiking his purée of parsnips with an intense mussel jus. Both were fine accompaniments to his main event, a trout tartare flavoured with saffron-infused fennel and garnished with trout roe, white corn and parsnip chips. The tartare was a splendid match for the mystery wine, the musselly purée a touch too powerful, but the overall effect was most impressive.
From Saskatoon, Chef Trevor Robertson of Aroma Rest-bar in the Radisson Hotel presented a block of succulent pork belly, cooked sous vide and glazed with a chili honey. He used green apple and fresh fennel to build a flavour bridge into the wine, strengthening the relationship with a green apple gel, garnishes of radish and baby tomato and a dainty ricepaper crisp. The biggest flavour on the plate was an intense, sapid tomato fennel jam that came dangerously close to pushing the wine around.
Representing British Columbia, Chef Brian Skinner of The Acorn, in Vancouver, offered a brilliant and accurate analysis of the wine, finding minerality and oaky vanilla in its complex personality and admiring the length of its finish. Seeking to match not trump the vino, he proposed “a trio of cauliflower cheese” in keeping with the vegetarian mandate of his restaurant. The dish looked absolutely spectacular, its elements arranged in a circle like a carved Grinling Gibbons garland. Cauliflower had been dealt with three ways – seared in juniper oil; puréed with brown butter and dijon mustard; and pickled with bay, cumin and chili. The cheesy purée alluded to cauliflower cheese while opaque white petals of organic Similkameen shallots, poached in a vegetable court bouillon, added another contrasting texture and taste to the plate. Matchsticks of tart apple dyed purple with beet juice referred to the earthiness Chef found in the wine.
From Winnipeg, Chef Kelly Cattani of Elements the Restaurant, also had a very clear vision of the wine, identifying the viognier in the blend. Her dish wowed the judges – raw scallops cured for three hours in sake and mirin and paired with miso butter sauce. A salad of Asian flavours included wakame, baby kale, green onion, sesame and pickled Asian pear with tobiko roe for colour and saltiness. A slice of serrano chili sealed the deal. Textures were amazing, the balance of components very strong but several of the judges felt the dish changed the taste of the wine.
From Toronto, Chef Lorenzo Loseto of George Restaurant created a sensory mosaic of carefully interlocking flavours and textures. At its heart was a fluffy goat cheese mousse served on a broad ribbon of yellow beet carpaccio. A salad of julienned fuji apple and truffle-scented black trumpet mushrooms was topped with a mere suggestion of smoked bacon and Chef also used bacon fat as a subtle brush on an olive bread crisp. There were brussels sprout leaves, scattered beet crumble and brown dots of a reduced jelly of beet and aged balsamic – all perfectly harmonious and precisely in tune with the wine.
From Halifax, Chef Martin Ruiz Salvador of Fleur de Sel, in Lunenburg, presented our final plate of the evening, and it was splendid. Here was a salad of diced smoked strugeon with fennel and cucumber garnished with fennel fronds and drizzled with a clove-and-orange-juice cream. Chef had formed it into a ring that held a pool of green fennel and leek vichyssoise. White leek fondue added a second soft rich texture, spooned onto the vichyssoise. There was more of the salad in the centre of the pool, an island upon which lay a gorgeous, pan-seared oyster that picked up the minerality in the wine very nicely indeed.
The judges retired to their deliberation room and added up their scores. It was like watching the beginning of a long-distance race, the athletes all in a bunch with no one prepared to take the lead. The six leading chefs were only separated by three percentage points; the other five almost as close. This was absolutely anyone’s game.
Saturday morning. The Black Box competition. Over the years of the CCC, we have tried to flummox the chefs by filling the black box of mystery ingredients with such arcane items as wild liquorice root, dulse or live crabs, or else we have given them a meat that is exceptionally difficult to cook in less than an hour. This year, I thought we might take a different route, giving them much more everyday things to work with, things we can all cook, hoping they would come up with spectacular, imaginative and different solutions to the competition. So we started our list of six components with a chicken – a whole, 8-lb organic chicken from Sterling Springs farm near Kelowna, introduced by the farmer herself, Lisa Dueck. A bunch of local parsnips from Greencroft Gardens in Grindrod, B.C. A container of Cornect Family Farm honey butter from Nova Scotia, one of many generous donations to our weekend from Taste of Nova Scotia. A bag of gorgeous, intensely flavourful Saskatchewan cherries from Dean Kreutzer of Over the Hill Orchards in Saskatchewan. Two perfect, whole, gutted but otherwise immaculate trout from West Creek Farms in B.C. And finally a bag of fresh lion’s mane fungus that looked like white pompoms, from Champignons Le Coprin in Gatineau. All these Canadian culinary treasures were donated and on behalf of Gold Medal Plates and the Canadian Culinary Championships I’d like to thank the donors profusely.
Each chef had to use these ingredients in one or other of two plates they had to devise and prepare for the judges and they had precisely an hour to do it. Lateness or failure to use one of the ingredients would be severely penalized. Alas, two of our competitors incurred penalties. Kelly Cattani was more than a minute and half late plating her second dish. Martin Ruiz Salvador, standing describing his dishes for the judges, realized with horror that he had forgotten to put the fungus he had cooked onto his plate. Our hearts went out to them both, but the rules are written in stone.
I won’t list each of the 22 dishes we received. There was a great deal of repetition. Most chefs decided to fillet and pan-sear their trout. Most chefs chose to purée their parsnips. Only Danny St. Pierre used the bones of his chicken to supercharge the chicken stock from the pantry; hardly anyone worked with the fowl’s dark meat… But every dish had moments to delight us!
Thank you, Trevor Robertson, for a great lemon and honey-butter beurre blanc and for using the cherries with the thyme-scented chicken forcemeat you put inside the breast.
Thank you, Martin Ruiz Salvador, for the delectable little cilantro-studded mushu pancake under your roast chicken breast.
Kelly Cattani, thanks for the awesome, gingery broth in your trout hot pot.
Merci, Danny St. Pierre, for getting crisp skin onto your trout fillet and for mashing, not puréeing your parsnips.
Thank you, Brian Skinner for a chicken mousseline quenelle with the texture of a cloud.
Thanks to you, Lorenzo Loseto, for putting colour on your beautiful plates and for marinating your trout instead of cooking it.
Jonathan Thauberger, it was a great idea to do a cold dish and a hot one, and to warm the plate! Thank you for the yummy trout tartare and the chicken breast roulade.
Merci, Marysol Foucault, for the spare perfection of your presentation and for the delectable cherry gastrique (the best use of the cherries in the entire competition), the garlicky lemon aioli and the parsnip rösti.
Thank you Duncan Ly for giving us crunchy brunoise of parsnip in your red wine gastrique and for the chicken leg meat in the beautiful little dumpling.
Thank you, Roger Andrews, for the delicious herbed potato “bar” and for figuring out that cutting up the fungus and sautéeing it hard meant it wouldn’t soak up so much liquid.
And thank you, Paul Shufelt, for the great dijon spaetzle you made so fast to go with your chicken and for roasting off your parsnips in the honey butter.
So, where did we stand after the Black Box? That front-running pack of chefs had changed personnel a little and there was a hint of daylight beginning to show between the first four or five and the rest of the field. Who was out in front? By a nose, Danny St. Pierre, with Duncan Ly and Lorenzo Loseto right on his heels. But it was still impossible to call. Everything would depend on the Grand Finale.
Saturday night. The Grand Finale.
Chefs often go to great lengths to create their signature dish for the Grand Finale. Martin Ruiz Salvador may have trumped them all in putting together his contribution, a very different idea from the refined version of a breakfast collation that had won him gold in Halifax. He sent a fisherman out to sea, 35 miles into the Atlantic to harvest 70 gallons of pure sea water. He froze some of it around the gorgeous South Shore lobsters he shipped out to Kelowna, and brought the rest to poach the lobsters to a perfect state of quivering rarity. There were two principal accompaniments, both soft, weighty textures and both exotically flavoured. One was a white corn polenta stirred with parsnip and topped with two squares of tofu in a shallot-parsley-lemon zest dressing. The other was a mayo made with rendered bone marrow and chopped seaweed for a dazzling taste of the seashore. Shredded radishes, that Chef had fermented in sea water for three months, added a unique tang, and a strewing of pork scrunchions for richness and crunch delighted everyone. The final garnish was a rosette of hana tsunomata seaweed. I found it a brilliant dish, beautifully matched to his wine, the Benjamin Bridge Tidal Bay 2012, a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Vidal grown in Nova Scotia’s Gaspereau Valley.
Brian Skinner showed next, with a dish that wowed the judges with its gorgeous aromas and flavours. Cylinders of different sizes turned out to be different things – drums of smoked king oyster mushroom or of confited potato. Quartered, roasted purple heirloom carrots lay across them while big petals of braised shallot brought a different kind of sweetness. Dazzlingly orange, tissue-thin shards of peppery carrot meringue were intensely flavourful. A thick, rich mushroom jus united the spectrum of tastes like a thrown blanket while little dots of jelly made from 20-year-old sherry (the only ingredient that came from farther than 100 miles from Chef’s restaurant) provided an edge of acidity. The wine match was impeccable – Clos du Soleil Chegwin & Baessler Pinot Blanc 2012 from B.C.’s Similkameen Valley.
Third up was Lorenzo Loseto, presenting a slimmed-down version of his golden Toronto dish. At its heart were thick slices of superb ahi tuna that had been rolled in potato threads and deep-fried for the seconds needed to crisp them. The tuna itself remained essentially raw, glossy and dark as a polished Indian ruby. Carrot and pear were the accompanying components. Some of the carrots had been roasted in butter and transformed by tapioca and multidextrin into little marshmallow-textured nubbins of flavour. A finely chopped salad of carrot and pear was dressed with a gingered jasmine reduction. Radish provided moments of subtle heat, while a beet-stained, tartly pickled, obliquely cut slice of fennel added an unexpected tang. Drops of highly seasoned peppercorn mayo stood as an optional condiment for the tuna and a flourish of fennel pollen and pistachio powder finished the dish. 2010 Old Vine Riesling from Kew Vineyards on Niagara’s Beamsville Bench, a wine full of the aromas of petrol and lemon zest, was an inspired match.
Chef Marysol Foucault catapulted herself into the frontrunners with a fabulous dish. Her original intention had been to serve bear meat but instead she settled for a combination of wild boar belly, cooked sous vide for 36 hours then wrapped around rabbit loin with pink peppercrons and cooked for eight hours more. Tender, moist and flavourful, this chunk of meat was set over a dense chestnut purée that had been spiked with double-smoked bacon and strewn with fragments of chestnut, lemon and espalette pepper. A sweet parsnip puff and parsnip chips reprised the weekend’s inescapable ingredient and there were other delicious elements to be found, including a rabbit liver brown butter, two sauces using beets – one yellow, another a dark gastrique. Maintaining the boreal theme, Chef had soaked lichen in sortilège whisky and fried it to crispness. This beautifully conceived dish was well paired with Clossen Chase “The Brock” Chardonnay 2011 from Ontario’s Niagara River.
Chef Duncan Ly presented the dish that had won him victory in Calgary – a slim slice of a superb terrine made with side stripe prawns and pig’s ear set in a matrix of firm, finely textured braised and ground pork neck, cheek and jowl. Once sliced, the prawns showed as white circles against the meat while the pig’s ear (amazingly tender) was a narrow white stripe curving across the surface. A mint-apple gelée created a slim green rim to the slice. On one corner, Chef left a small mound of soft powder made from peanut and pork floss. To brighten the richness of the terrine, he made a crisp, fresh salad of finely julienned apple spiked with mint and a discreet sweet-sour dressing. An “Asian hot mustard and garlic sauce” turned out to be more of a gently spiced aïoli while the dish’s garnishes – a miniature rice crisp and some viola petals – looked as pretty as a picture. Chef’s wine match was remarkably successful – the Peller Estates NV Ice Cuvée rosé sparkler from Niagara, its off-dry fruitiness and sly acidity enhancing all the flavours on the plate.
Sixth to the table was Chef Roger Andrews. He chose to work with squab, stuffing the double breast with whole pistachios and chanterelles, cooking it sous vide and then finishing it in a hot pan to rendeer the fat and crisp the skin. The meat was awe-inspiringly delicious, as was its sauce, made from the reduced juices quickened with a hit of a low-lying shrub called Labrador tea. The second component garnered rave reviews from the public and from many of the judges – a salad of crunchy-soft puffed wild rice, cloudberries, lowbush blueberries and flower petals moistened with a hibiscus vinaigrette. Then there was a silky squash purée spiced with cumin and cayenne to match the pepperiness in the wine, and a moment of maple-scented apple compressed with green onion. Chef matched his squab very nicely indeed with the Norman Hardie 2012 Pinot Noir from Prince Edward County, Ont.
Chef Kelly Cattani played with local ingredients but Asian flavours for her signature dish. The star of the plate was a tataki-style treatment of Manitoban elk, seared very briefly in avocado oil then sliced remarkably thinly. She laid it over cool, delicious soba noodles and spread a half moon of roughly puréed edamame beans across the plate. Pickled carrots and ginger added zing to the soba salad while crimson microgreens proved a subtly earthy garnish. Chili oil added more pizzazz and a togarashu rice crisp was the final touch. The elk worked well with the bright, fresh 2011 Blue Mountain Pinot Noir from Okanagan Falls, B.C.
Chef Trevor Robertson presenting a plate that looked like a Joan Miro painting – stunningly colourful and graphic. Above a thin purple line of haskap berry gastrique, we found slices of his “duck press,” a finely textured Muscovy duck terrine studded with squares of foie gras, black truffle and shiitake under a pistachio crust. Pale yellow streaks of Morden corn beurre blanc underlay the terrine beside apricot pearls and cut-out circles of glossy corn gel. Twists of duck breast prosciutto reinforced the protein component while a scoop of smoked corn sorbet turned everything on its head with a weird and woodsy wow factor. Nk’Mip Winemaker’s Series 2012 Pinot Noir from Osoyoos, B.C. was Chef’s choice, a wine that worked particularly well with the duck prosciutto.
Chef Jonathan Thauberger prepared rabbit for us – the deboned loin and saddle stuffed with baby leek and carrot and a forcemeat made with sour cherries and cooked sous vide. He set this tender ballotine on a piece of brioche toast partially hidden beneath a piping of rabbit stock compound butter. Meanwhile a deep, dark reduction of the rabbit jus throbbed flavour like a fretless bass guitar in the hands of Roger Waters. Nasturtiums from Chef’s own garden became a sweetish jelly and also a seasoning powder while a single orange nasturtium petal and leaf were the elegant garnish. A miniature salad of cat tails and a sour cherry reduction finished the plate. The wine match was a light-on-its-feet 2010 Bordeaux blend called Two Hoots from Fairview Cellars in Oliver, B.C.
Chef Danny St. Pierre presented a fascinating warm salad of braised beef tongue, thinly sliced and arranged on the plate as a flat oblong of meat, almost like carpaccio. A savoury glaze of soy, fish sauce, maple, balsamic and sesame oil added gloss and cohesion to the tongue. Organized on top were other elements designed, like the glaze and the tongue itself, to harmonize impeccably with the wine. Instants of a clove-scented confited-cranberry purée mimicked the wine’s flavour. Onion drizzled with horseradish added its own piquancy as did the cool heat of thinly sliced radish. A fried quail egg sat on top, its runny yolk released by one’s fork to become a rich sauce and the egg itself was strewn with very finely cut marrowbone croutons, their crunch contrasting with the softness of the tongue. Perhaps it was the egg yolk that disturbed some of Chef’s careful harmonies. The wine he chose, even before he created the dish to go with it, was Vignoble Carone Venice 2011 Cabernet Severnyi from Lanoraie, Que.
Chef Paul Shufelt was our final competitor. He had taken all the off-cuts of Tangle Ridge Ranch lamb and braised them for six to eight hours in a light veal stock with Syrah, pomegranate and fresh mint. Then he pulled the meat apart and laid it over a “risotto” of faro grains cooked in stock from the roasted lamb bones . Yellowfoot chanterelles sautéed with shallots and garlic were one garnish; another was thin slices of pickled candystripe beets, lending dramatic colour and refreshing acidity. Crispy leeks and micro mint seedlings added pop while whole pomegranate seeds looked like jewels on the plate. It was a dish of true “rustic refinement” as Chef intended, well matched with Mission Hill Select Lot Collection Syrah 2011 from the Okanagan Valley, B.C.
So there you have it… To be sure, the Grand Finale truly lived up to its billing, with all the chefs pushing their pace up to maximum and much jockeying for position as we finally crossed the line. It would be safe to say that every competitor this weekend performed like a star but only three toques can fit on the podium. Danny St. Pierre won our bronze medal. Duncan Ly won the silver. Lorenzo Loseto won gold and becomes our new Canadian Culinary Champion. Congratulations to all the chefs and judges who worked so hard this weekend to find our new Champion.
As Canada’s Olympic athletes have shown us, the road to victory can be arduous. That was also the case for many of the judges making their way from Eastern Canada to Kelowna, B.C., to serve on the judiciary panel of the Canadian Culinary Championships. Thirteen hours door-to-door, in my case, thanks to the weather at Pearson and missed connections. Which made our ultimate rendezvous all the sweeter. Across the street from our hotel, the lovely Eldorado, stands a comfortable, cool, contemporary restaurant called Cabana. It was there we gathered, to be greeted by a glass of Bella sparkling chardonnay and an array of other brilliant wines very generously donated by Lindsay Kelm of the British Columbia Wine Institute.
We are 13 judges this year. Travelling, like the sun himself, from east to west, they are: from St. John’s, Newfoundland, broadcaster, food columnist for the Telegram, author and host of his own tv show, One Chef One Critic. KARL WELLS; from Halifax, journalist and restaurant critic for the Chronicle-Herald, who overcame his fear of flying to be with us in Kelowna, BILL SPURR; from Montreal, former pastry chef, author, journalist and since 1999, fine-dining critic and food columnist for the Montreal Gazette, LESLEY CHESTERMAN; from Ottawa-Gatineau, author and broadcaster, senior editor of Taste & Travel Magazine and former restaurant critic of the Ottawa Citizen, ANNE DESBRISAY; from Toronto, award-winning food columnist and food writer, currently an editor with the Walrus, SASHA CHAPMAN; from Winnipeg, professional chef, Liverpool fanatic, culinary arts instructor and Director Food Services at Red River College, JEFF GILL; from Saskatchewan, award-winning cookbook author, tv and radio host and publisher of Savour Life magazine, and our senior judge in both Regina and Saskatoon, CJ KATZ; from Edmonton, wine, food and travel writer, certified sommelier and wine instructor, publisher of red tomato online and the founder of Edmonton’s Slow Food convivium, MARY BAILEY; from Calgary, teacher, broadcaster, author and restaurant columnist for the Calgary Herald, JOHN GILCHRIST; from Kelowna, Instructor in Baking and Pastry Arts right here at Okanagan College, PERRY BENTLEY; from Vancouver, world-renowned wine and food judge and the wine and food guru for Western Living magazine, SID CROSS; and also from Vancouver, author, teacher, restaurant critic, boulevardier and the editor-in-chief of Scout Magazine, ANDREW MORRISON. Andrew is also the CCC’s Culinary Referee and the man who will be responsible for enforcing the rules throughout the weekend.
Here was a merry meeting – and Cabana did us proud. We tasted a smoked duck confit crostini with drunken cherries and a fig reduction. We further calibrated our palates with a salad of roasted baby beets and corn, served on a bed of peppered arugula with orange vinaigrette topped with herbed Happy Days goat cheese and shaved rainbow radish. Some of us couldn’t resist one of the restaurant’s renowned specialities – deboned chicken wings stuffed with cream cheese. Then there was thickly sliced chateaubriand, crusted with a cinnamon coffee rub and set over a buttermilk honey parsnip mash and a smoked apricot purée. Three chocolate mouthfuls closed the occasion – one just a foam that melted into air in our mouths, another a fluffy milk chocolate mousse, the last a heavy, wickedly intense terrine. A fine start to a weekend of professional eating.
The treats continued on Thursday. It is the generous custom of Tourism Kelowna’s Catherine Frechette to devise a gently educational culinary adventure for the judges as a team-building preamble to the competition itself. This year we were driven up to Tantalus winery on the brow of a ridge overlooking the valley. We didn’t know what to expect, but it turned out to be tremendous fun. There to meet us were luminaries from the winery and also the chefs and bartender from Kelowna’s splendid Indian restaurant, Poppadoms (948 McCurdy Road, 778-753-5563, www.poppadoms.ca). It’s a family business, with Jas Dosanj and her daughter Aman in the kitchen, and her son Harry a most inventive bartender. Our task this sunny but very cold morning was to work as cooks, aproned in black and divided into pairs, set to prepare six different dishes that would eventually become our lunch. To help us work, Mark Puttick, manager of Knifewear Inc, was there to lend us an array of marvelous Japanese knives, while Jas and Aman moved amongst our prep tables, offering advice.
I paired up with Sid Cross and we set to work making a Keralan vegetable dish of potatoes, carrots, parsnip and onions in a coconut sauce spiced with handfuls of julienned ginger and garlic, green chilies and cardamom, cloves, peppercorns and roasted ground fennel seeds. Harry provided inspiration with miniature shots of his prize-winning cocktail, a creation he calls a Harry Berry that mixes Okanagan Spirits whisky, Tantalus Pinot Noir, a syrup made by reducing maple stout, and a shot of blackberry lemonade, all finished with a moment of egg white. I’m usually pretty good at imagining what a cocktail is going to taste like but I was most surprised by the suave, tangy, subtle flavour of this one… An excellent invention!
While our dishes were finishing in the Tantalus ovens, Jas showed us how to make chapatis and then let us try. We soon had the balls of wholewheat flour and water dough rising like balloons on our butane burners.
Lunch was amazing! It didn’t hurt that we had a good number of actual chefs on the judging panel. I can say without fear of contradiction that we go into the first element of the competition tonight – the mystery wine pairing contest – as a very focused posse, ready to do our duty in passing judgement on 11 of Canada’s finest chefs.
Yesterday we flew into Montreal - in and out – to meet up with a merry group and set out into the city in a luxurious and colourfully lit stretch charabanc to find our 2013 Montreal Gold Medal Plates champion. Ten first-class contenders had already emerged from the other 10 cities across the country where we had held our gala events; but how could we show up in Kelowna next February without a Montreal star? Impossible. Hence the road-trip, a “GMP plan B” that has worked very well for us before. Four of us represented GMP – our fearless leader, Stephen Leckie, our two senior Montreal judges, Lesley Chesterman and Robert Beauchemin, and me, together with World Champion short-track speed skater and three-time Olympic medallist Isabelle Charest, and many new friends from Deloitte and Impact de Montréal. We visited five very different restaurants, tasted five exceptional dishes and emerged at the end of it with a very worthy new champion.
I must say, the marks were scarily close. Kudos to the chefs, who welcomed us into their restaurants and honoured the rules we insisted upon – with one exception… Of which more later.
Our bronze medal was awarded to Nick Hodge, Texas-born chef of the ruggedly unconventional Ice House, a brilliant, casual restaurant with its roots in the southern U.S. The splendidly bearded Hodge introduced his dish as “Quebec-Mex” and served it up on an earthenware dish with a handle – very rustic and effective. The heart of his concept was local Wagyu beef brisket, cool-smoked over Texas oak wood then cooked sous vide for 72 hours. The texture he achieved by this method was remarkable – not fibrous, perfectly moist, with a crispness and firmness to the meat that met with universal appreciation. The block of beef sat on the edge of a drift of silky corn pudding, made from organic Quebec corn whipped with egg yolk, a knob of butter and a little salt until it was utterly smooth. The second sauce on the plate was in total contrast in terms of flavour, a black and intense sour cherry mole, laboured over for days and involving dried fruits, nuts, seeds, dried chilies, and – instead of using traditional but foreign-to-Canada chocolate – toasted wild elderflowers, that Chef explained had a kick just like inhaling cocoa. This sauce was amazingly deep, tangy, layered and great with the beef. The finishing touch was a garnish of fresh and pickled watermelon radish cut to the minuscule size of those tiny, worthless Sharjah postage stamps that every schoolboy collected when I was a nipper. The final flourish, the panache to the dish, lay on top – a crunchy, dehydrated, pickled, flattened okra. It was a sturdy, forthright dish with great depths of flavour in the three main components. Chef Hodge matched it with Norman Hardie’s unfiltered 2012 County Cabernet Franc, a wine that “screamed fresh cherry” to Chef Hodge and inspired the mole sauce. Like the garnishes, it contributed refreshing acidity along with its own fruity personality.
Our silver medal went to chef Antonio Park of Restaurant Park in Westmount, who also won silver last year. I have to say, his dish was exceptional – complex, technically impeccable, imaginative… Alas, there was a serious issue with the beverage he chose to accompany it. Gold Medal Plates is a celebration of Canadian excellence and we insist the chosen drink must be Canadian, whether it be a wine, beer, spirit or anything else. Chef Park paired his drink with a fine green tea from Japan brewed with brown rice. As a result we were obliged to score him a zero for Wine Compatibility, a category that commands ten percent of the total marks. We took our lead from the Olympic athletes we strive to support: break the rules of your particular discipline, and you must suffer the consequences. This in no way detracted from Chef Park’s fabulous dish which was centred around snapper. Introducing his creation to the table, Chef Park explained that he had used seven acupuncture points to numb the living fish into a state of neural oblivion before dispatching it and preparing it three ways. First there was a tartare, the raw fillet chopped and mixed with a sauce of yoghurt, ginger flowers, minced shallots, Japanese microchives, onion, carrot and Japanese plum that had been fermented for two months before being introduced to its fellow ingredients. It was a divine tartare. The second “way” was a seared fillet, still raw in the centre but lightly charred on the edge – absolutely gorgeous! The third way involved the fish’s bones, boiled down to make a broth in which to poach some yellow soshito peppers (with some three-month-old kimchee to add a touch of pep). Over to the side was a finger of seared foie gras. Did it belong with the snapper? Would, say, monkfish liver have been more à propos? Either way, the foie was totally yummy. There were many other elements in the bowl. A red sauce of pickled anchovies in wine vinegar, olive oil, garlic and ginger, spiked with a dash of Korean red pepper sauce, added serious umami. As did molecular pearls of balsamic vinegar marinated in soy sauce. As did the tissue-thin ribbons of bacon that lay on top of the fish, alongside burdock chips and shavings of white truffle. The final component, and the only heavy-handed moment on the plate, were some hard, crunchy “chips” made from deep-fried albacore tuna. Such a complex, delicious, intellectual construction! Most of our group scored it very highly indeed. If only that tea had been from Canada…
And then there was our gold-medal-winning dish, from chef Danny St-Pierre who has a restaurant called Auguste, in Sherbrooke. In order to make life easier for the judges, he had borrowed a downtown-Montreal restaurant space belonging to the Soupesoup chain, and was there to greet us and present his composition. His protein was beef tongue, sliced as thin as carpaccio and arranged into a rectangle on the plate. It was incredibly soft and tender – not slimy or stringy, as tongue can be – and its flavour had been subtly boosted by an umami-crazy drizzle of balsamic, soy and Vietnamese fish sauce. Truly subtle… If he hadn’t described it, I wouldn’t have sussed it at all. Other components were strewn about on the bed of tongue. We found shaved radish, soft discs of purple beet, crispy little croutons with the diameter of nickles that had been infused with bonemarrow, chopped chives, dots of cranberry purée like warm, tangy jam spiked with five-spice flavours that reached out to the wine, some finely grated parmesan. On top of it all was a quail egg, sunny side up, its runny yolk providing the simplest but most sublime of sauces to the tongue. Chef St-Pierre found his wine first and then created the dish to match it – and what a wine! It was something I had never tasted before. From the Venice range, grown and produced in Quebec by the Carone winery, it was a lightly chilled 2011 Cabernet Severnyi (a variety normally associated with the Czech Republic) – full-bodied, fruity, intense, purple, like some civilized cousin to a Baco Noir. A really good match for this dish!
So we found our Montreal champion. And that concludes the Gold Medal Plates 2013 campaign. Eleven chefs are coming to Kelowna in February – on the same day that the Sochi Olympics open, coincidentally. After the intense three days of competition, we will be crowning our own Canadian Culinary Champion. If anyone would like to join me there, just let me know (www.jameschatto.com) and we can talk. It’s going to be AWESOME.